By Craig Sager II
Last year’s Rome team looked more like the product of a football dynasty than a team looking to defend the only state title in its program’s history. But whatever the mission might have been, Rome was both successful and utterly unstoppable in achieving it. The Wolves’ obliteration of the competition last season engraved an average margin of victory of 41.3 points into a flawless 15-0 record. Head coach John Reid’s defense had a pass rush spearheaded by Georgia signee Adam Anderson that made any passing play seem like a gamble; the group produced 114.5 tackles for loss on the year. Offensively, quarterback Knox Kadum already led the team to a state title as a sophomore and was back making even better decisions and plays as a junior. And fellow juniors Jamious Griffin (accounted for 28 of the team’s 68 rushing touchdowns) and Xavier Roberts (caught 11 of the team’s 22 touchdown receptions),provided an offensive balance that made Rome the highest scoring team in the entire state.
“I think there is a negative and a positive aspect to the success last season,” explained Reid. “One of the positives is that kids understand the way we operate and that has become the new standard. The way we practice, lift, walk the halls. The negative part is the expectations, and I hope people don’t put the unreasonably high ones on the kids. There may never be another team like we had last year in Rome history, or even in state history. Just a bunch of good kids with excellent chemistry that worked hard and enjoyed the game.”
Winning back-to-back state titles has provided Reid with an abundance of championship experience on this year’s roster, and the focus this spring will be on building depth around it.
“I think there are two aspects to that process this spring,” said Reid. “Early in the season, you are going to play some games where even if you wanted to play kids most of the time, you can’t get away with it in 95 degree weather. There’s no question that a lot of kids are going to play and get experience. I was looking at film the other day and our backups were in on the defensive line last year in our first, second and third games, including the Carrollton and Kell games. It’s really important in spring practice to see if what we thought we saw as backups last year is going to hold true for us this year.”
Anchoring the offensive line is Aiden Gaines, a rising junior who coach Reid calls the best center in the state (and a guy who plays each snap like he wants to be the best center in the state). At right tackle is Quantavious “Tic” Leslie, a 6-foot-4, 285-pound rising junior, who, like Gaines, can get to the second level and turn quick screens into explosive track meets. The defensive line, and what it will look like without Anderson, is going to remain a question until Rome’s season opener with Marietta on Aug. 16.
“The big question is going to be what we will be like on the defensive line this season,” said Reid. “I think that we’ve got some kids that are really going to surprise some people. We’ve won like every JV game we’ve ever played since I’ve been at Rome. Those kids have got some good experience, and we have some really good linemen on both sides of the ball coming up that will help each other get better this offseason.”
The Wolves will open up their spring practice on May 3 and will scrimmage North Paulding on May 18. Of course, Rome’s highly anticipated season opener at the Corky Kell Classic has added to the offseason buzz.
“All I keep hearing about is how good of an opponent Marietta is for us,” said Reid. “As far as Rome football is considered, it’s a good starting point for us to see where we are at and I’m sure [Marietta] coach [Richard] Morgan is thinking along the same lines. It should be a great game for the fans. It being the first game of the season, we are still going to be seeing what we can do, so it should be an interesting matchup.”
ROME’S 2018 SCHEDULE
8/16 Marietta (Barron Stadium)
8/31 North Clayton
9/07 At Kell
9/28 At Woodland-Cartersville
10/5 East Paulding
10/12 At Paulding County
10/19 At Hiram
10/26 Villa Rica